St Helens: In search of Dryer Glacier

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Chip Down
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St Helens: In search of Dryer Glacier

Post by Chip Down » July 22nd, 2018, 5:09 pm

I know approximately where Dryer Glacier is supposed to be on MSH. I've done a bit of exploring in the area. Went back to nail it down, see if I could find the withering remnants of what was an active glacier before 5/18/80.

Hit the Red Rock Pass trail just before 3am, arrived at Loowit junction at 4:40, turned right, followed the trail to the lava flow, continued from post to post until it started descending. At 5:05 I decided I'd better wait until dawn so I could pick a sensible route. Sat and filtered some of the water I picked up at Butte Camp, put my headlamp away, waited for light. Didn't take long. By 5:20 I could see I had overshot the Butte Camp climbing route, but that's okay, it looks pretty miserable anyway. I was all the way on the east side of the lava flow, at a mini canyon, and the trail was about to descent into it.

Looking up the mini canyon, I saw it was continuous with a striking feature I had noticed up on the mountain before. There's a heart-shaped slide, with a snow-filled gully leading to it, and my mini-canyon draining out the bottom. On a previous trip, I had noticed how a hiker descending the snow gully could dead end at The Heart, and would probably have to climb back up, unable to exit the gully by its steep crumbly sides. I certainly wasn't going to climb up through The Heart, so I had to pick left (through the jumbled lava flow towards the Butte Camp route) or right (up easy grassy slopes).

Right won, which meant I had to get across my mini-canyon, but I didn't want to take the trail down, so I ascended the left/west rim briefly, until I found a nice spot where it was an easy walk across. Working my way up the easy grassy slopes on the east side turned out to be terrible. It was so sandy! I tried to use rocks to my advantage, but it was still a hassle. I considered traversing farther east to gain a ridge, which I assumed would provide better footing, but I decided to save that as a possible descent route, and kept working my way up to The Heart. In spite of the arduous ascent, it was almost as scenic as I expected, and so I was only occasionally tempted to look for a way back to the lava flow to the west.

At 6:40 (6000') I arrived at the top of The Heart, and I was shocked at what I found. The gully above was still filled with snow; it only looked spotty from below because of its twists and turns. And another surprise: the edges of the gully were not impossible to climb. Yay! Fed up with the sandy slippery climbing, I dropped into the gully, and tested the snow. Solid, consolidated, firm, not icy. Perfect. Crampons on, discretionary axe in hand, I started up. For the first time since the Butte Camp/Loowit junction, my route was perfectly clear, and I knew exactly what to do.

There were soon choices to be made, but following the larger branches took me the direction I wanted to go anyway, and by 9:00 (7600') I was at my intermediate goal, a shallow snowy basin east of an instrument station I visited on my descent from the summit on my last MSH hike a couple weeks ago.

From there, my plan was to follow snow up and east, roughly spiraling CCW up the mountain. But I didn't like what I saw up there. It had been quite windy all day, enough that my one snack break had been hunkered down behind a boulder. Above, I could see swirling dustclouds. I didn't want to ascend into that. But I was carrying a summer-weight balaclava, which would help keep grit out of my ears, mouth, nose. And the side shields on my glasses would keep my eyes semi-protected. So up I went, guessing which route would provide the most continuous snow. I made some smart/lucky decisions, and I don't think I was forced onto rock more than once (a couple times it was optional, because I didn't want to descend to stay on snow). I'm not sure I picked the best possible route; I wonder if I should have gone higher sooner. But the route I took was satisfactory. At the one dead end I encountered, a brief scramble over a rubbly ridge put me back on snow, this time on the large snowfield that leads up to the low point on the crater rim between the summit and the top of the Monitor Ridge route.

I wasn't planning on visiting the rim, but the snow would take me all the way there, and it was close, so why not. Amazingly, made it from the top of The Heart to the crater rim with just a few yards on dry ground.

For my descent, I went east, guided by the best scenery and the best snow lines (which, fortunately, mostly coincided). I wasn't expecting glissade opportunities, but it was warming up, and I was in the sun. Each step resulted in a little slide of a couple inches, and I imagine I was getting some nice cushioning with every step, so I was grateful for the softening snow. Clouds started building, and that made me nervous. The lost scenery would be bad enough, but I was in unknown terrain. It never amounted to much though; the clouds just served to enhance the scenery a little. Routefinding was fun, just challenging enough to be interesting. I was never really worried about getting trapped and having to climb back up to traverse over to a known route. Unlike my ascent route, the snow at the bottom of my descent was a bit spotty, and I had to link snow patches together, until I finally ran out at 6000' the same elevation where I hit snow on my ascent (interesting to note that the previous weekend on Hood my glissade abruptly ended at 6100').

It wasn't even noon yet, so I allowed myself a long liesurely rest before starting the brief traverse back to my ascent route, which I followed back to the trail. I wish I had done something different. When I reached my car, I still had some time/energy left, so I could have explored a bit more.

The hike back to Red Rock Pass (trailhead) was great. The breeze never let up. I didn't see a single mosquito, even at the notoriously buggy Butte Camp. As usual, Loowit was crowded. Lots of runners, a few equestrians.

Never saw the butterflies I was hoping for, the California Tortoiseshell migration that's been in full swing this month. I've seen reports of them on MSH and Sisters, but for me it's been just Hood. Maybe the wind was responsible?

An afterthought: A few weeks ago, I traversed MSH clockwise starting at 4800' on Monitor Ridge. That elevation was chosen partly to avoid USFS thugs, but also because it's a change in terrain, and a natural place to head off trail. I hiked over to a canyon slightly west of the instrument station described in my TR above. On the trip I'm reporting on here, I crossed that path in two places, once up and once down. Although my previous trip slightly guided my decisions on this trip, and I recognized a few major features, I'm embarrassed to admit I wasn't able to specifically identify the two points where I crossed my previous traverse. Oh well. Mountains are weird. If you've done a lot of alpine travel, you probably know how radically different things can look from different angles. But still, my routes actually intersected, so that's kind of a lame excuse. My other excuse is that I know there's a lot less snow, and that changes how things look. In fact, I had hopped to follow a looooong snow gully that I crossed over on my earlier traverse, but it was all gone, and I couldn't even spot the shallow depression it lied in. Next year.
Attachments
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Notice how the snow in the gully above The Heart appears spotty. It's actually continuous. Route over to the monitor is pretty obvious. Route from monitor to summit has me perplexed. I can't completely reconcile the photo with my memory.
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Looking down from the top of The Heart. There was water ice up here, but I bet at the moment I'm writing this there's a mini waterfall into The Heart.
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Afer passing through that slot, the snow opened up and was less steep. Ice axe went back on the pack for the rest of the day.
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There's the monitor I knew I'd be seeing.
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Solitude at the summit, 10am
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The descent begins. So many options. I stayed left/higher, fo better scenery. Dropping to the right would have been fast/easy, I suspect. I did see some rockfall hazards though.
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At this point I think I've met up with the right/low option. If I had to guess, this is probably Dryer.

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kepPNW
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Re: St Helens: In search of Dryer Glacier

Post by kepPNW » July 23rd, 2018, 10:49 am

Another intriguing report! I was up there on the 18th, too, and that wind sucked bigtime. I think I only stayed on the rim for 5 minutes, tops. Ash in the eyes... ugh!

Been wanting to find the old Butte Camp route, but haven't invested any effort yet. Are there any landmarks to watch for, should I find myself wandering that way?

I think the wind certainly put the kibosh on butterflies... :|
Karl
Back on the trail, again...

(Photos · PortlandHikers)

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Chip Down
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Re: St Helens: In search of Dryer Glacier

Post by Chip Down » July 23rd, 2018, 5:45 pm

Hey Karl. What route did you take?
I gather Butte Camp follows the lava flow just east/left of The Heart [edit: left would be west, of course]. From the Butte Camp/Loowit junction, it's just a few minutes east/CCW on Loowit. There's supposed to be a well defined ridge/spine, but I've never noticed an obvious route. In my overview pic, notice the snow is fairly persistent west of the flow, so that would seem to be preferable for hikers comfortable with steep snow travel. The flow might be a better route when the mountain is dry, but that's just not the best time to be up there. I kinda wanted to climb that route just out of curiosity and for its historic significance, but I couldn't bring myself to do it. Had I been an hour later, and arrived at Loowit trail in the light, there's no telling what decision I might have made.

The wind was pretty uncomfortable, but this time of year it's hard to complain. The cool bugless hike down made it a fair trade. Too bad about the butterflies though. Saw a YT video of them at the rim just a few days ago.

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kepPNW
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Re: St Helens: In search of Dryer Glacier

Post by kepPNW » July 26th, 2018, 5:15 pm

Chip Down wrote:
July 23rd, 2018, 5:45 pm
Hey Karl. What route did you take?
I just flip-flopped up Monitor Ridge again.

Chip Down wrote:
July 23rd, 2018, 5:45 pm
I gather Butte Camp follows the lava flow just east/left of The Heart [edit: left would be west, of course]. From the Butte Camp/Loowit junction, it's just a few minutes east/CCW on Loowit. There's supposed to be a well defined ridge/spine, but I've never noticed an obvious route.
Check this out. Never thought to look here before!

Image
https://www.strava.com/heatmap#13.46/-1 ... 36/hot/all

Chip Down wrote:
July 23rd, 2018, 5:45 pm
In my overview pic, notice the snow is fairly persistent west of the flow, so that would seem to be preferable for hikers comfortable with steep snow travel. The flow might be a better route when the mountain is dry, but that's just not the best time to be up there. I kinda wanted to climb that route just out of curiosity and for its historic significance, but I couldn't bring myself to do it. Had I been an hour later, and arrived at Loowit trail in the light, there's no telling what decision I might have made.
I still haven't found myself doing it, either, but it's "on the list!" as they say. Someday. Hopefully soon!

Chip Down wrote:
July 23rd, 2018, 5:45 pm
The wind was pretty uncomfortable, but this time of year it's hard to complain. The cool bugless hike down made it a fair trade. Too bad about the butterflies though. Saw a YT video of them at the rim just a few days ago.
Heh, I wonder if it was my video?
Karl
Back on the trail, again...

(Photos · PortlandHikers)

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